An off-duty Montgomery County police officer said he acted on instinct and training to stop an attempt by two Frederick men to rob a Damascus bank Thursday.
One man charged in Thursday’s robbery later was charged with being part of a previous robbery at the same bank branch last month.
Officer Bill Morrison was in his marked police car in the drive-through of the M&T Bank in the 9800 block of Main Street in Damascus at about 10 a.m. Thursday, planning to make a transaction. He said he saw a man walk into the bank and noticed the teller and other employees acting strangely.
Officers are allowed to take their cars home and use them while off-duty if they live in Montgomery County, but must respond to any incidents they come across while in the vehicle, as if they were on duty, police spokeswoman Rebecca Innocenti said.
Morrison, a 28-year veteran of the force assigned to the department’s traffic enforcement division, said he was on his way to court to testify in another case when he stopped by the bank.
"He definitely looked out of place," Morrison said of the man wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses and scarf or some other type of cloth covering his face.
No weapon was displayed during the robbery, Innocenti said.
As the man — identified by police as Benjamin Edward Hansberger, 23, of Frederick — exited the bank, Morrison confronted him and chased him across Woodfield Road, police said.
In those situations, training and experience kick in, and you just respond to what you see and what happens, Morrison said.
Hansberger tried to get into a waiting Chevy Malibu in the parking lot of the Damascus Library, but the car drove off without him. Morrison quickly stopped the car.
The driver — identified by police as John Conley Laforce, 42, also of Frederick — was arrested. Hansberger ran into the woods behind the library, dropping some of the money police said was stolen from the bank, according to police.
Morrison said that as he was getting Laforce out of the Malibu, other off-duty Montgomery County officers and an off-duty Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy arrived, and Morrison directed them toward the woods.
A search of the woods also included officers from the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, several K-9 teams and a Maryland State Police helicopter.
Hansberger was found after about 20 minutes by a Montgomery County K-9 team and arrested without incident.
Police said Hansberger also has been charged with a robbery at the same bank on May 17, in which a man approached a teller and demanded money before leaving with an undisclosed amount of cash.
Police had asked for the public’s help in solving that robbery, and released a photo of a robber wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a cloth covering his face.
Court records did not list an attorney to represent either man Friday.
Morrison said the arrests Thursday were a case of being in the right place at the right time.
"If you’re going to rob a bank, you might want to look and make sure there are no police officers around," he said.